Winter driving requires special attention to your vehicle. Rain, snow, and cold weather can place any vehicle – or any driver – in an unsafe condition. Here are a few tips to see you safely through the winter driving season:
Always keep plenty of gas in the tank. You never know when you will be stuck somewhere in traffic, or stuck on the mountain in the snow. Your gas mileage may drop during winter, because there is more stop-and-go driving, because the roads are slicker, and because your vehicle may operate at a lower temperature. Unless your engine is running rough or the check engine light is on, a small decline in miles per gallon is normal. To keep your miles per gallon at their best, and to drive safely, watch your tire pressure. Most manufacturers do not recommend that you change the inflation during the winter. When in doubt, consult your owners’ manual.
Have your windshield washer fluid freeze protection checked regularly. Keep your reservoir full and be sure that your supply includes a chemical to prevent freezing. Driving in intermittent rain and snow can empty your sprayer tank quickly.
Use the “fresh air” mode on your heater control when defogging the window. This draws in outside air and will still be warm with your heater on, but does a better job defogging your windows. Later models automatically do this when in “defrost” mode. If your window is slow to de-fog, keep the heat on, but hit the air conditioning button for a minute or two. It won’t make your car cold – but it will help to more quickly reduce the humidity, and de-fog your window.
Make sure you turn your wipers off before you shut the car off for the night. This will return them to their horizontal position. If you don’t the next morning they may delay your departure, or may require that you drive away with them stuck in a vertical position, obstructing your vision. Never try to force a frozen windshield wiper to move. It may cause damage to the blades, to the linkage or to the wiper motor.
Don’t pour hot water on a frozen car. It can cause your windshield to crack. Plan a few extra minutes to allow the interior of your car to warm up and defrost the windshield – or place an old rubber mat over your windshield before you go to bed at night.
Get your snow tires on your vehicle as soon as permissible. In Oregon, that’s usually around November 1st. Don’t wait for the crunch of a sudden snowstorm that they didn’t predict on the news.
Learn how to use your 4-wheel drive or anti-lock brakes ahead of time. Consider practicing in an empty parking lot. This is particularly important when you buy an unfamiliar vehicle. Anti-lock brakes cause a unique shudder and noise from the brake pedal. This is normal. They usually don’t even activate unless you stomp down on the brake pedal hard and fast. Try it. That way it won’t be so scary when you experience this in a panic situation. 4-wheel drive now has several configurations depending on the make and model of the vehicle. If yours is one that you have to activate, learn how yours works before you need it. For most vehicles, it should not be used on dry pavement, which can bind up the drive train.
Have a multi-point inspection done on your vehicle every fall. Check tires, engine coolant for freeze protection, belts, hoses, fluids, filters and especially check your battery. The colder it is the less cranking amps it has and the more your engine needs.